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I've noticed that there are many companies whose names contain an ampersand. A quick Google search for "& Sons, Inc", or something similar, should yield countless examples. Though it's not common to see it used in a formal letter or bulletin, etc, it seems that the name of a company is formal indeed, and many of those do contain "&". Does this mean that ampersands can be used as formal, or that a company name is not really formal?

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The ampersand should not be used in formal writing, except in special cases like names of certain companies, in which case it should be used if it is part of the name.

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+1: Just because you wouldn't change the name of the song if you mentioned I can't get no satisfaction in a piece of formal writing, it doesn't mean that you can use double negatives in formal writing. –  Peter Shor Jul 2 '11 at 17:31
    
'should' according to who...? If you say 'should', that implies an obligation. Where does that obligation actually come from? –  Neil Coffey Jul 2 '11 at 18:23
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+1; There are a few oddball cases where & is suggested by a style guide but, if at all possible, it is best to leave it out. –  MrHen Jul 2 '11 at 18:24
    
Absolutely. And if someone says his name is "Steve", I think it's thoughtless, if not downright rude, to ask "Is that with a v or a ph?" –  FumbleFingers Jul 2 '11 at 21:11
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I think it's not so much a case of formality, but rather one of fashion, iconicity and stylistic preference.

Writing sequences such as "& Sons", or using the "&" between two surnames forming part of a company, has in some senses become an "iconic" use of the "&" that has tended to stick. It's also used in other cases that help an abbreivation "stand out", e.g. "M&S" ("Marks and Spencer"), "D&D" ("Dungeons and Dragons"). Another argument for the "&" is that it represents "and" in contexts where it is 'obvious' that it would be present but one doesn't want to detract from the words either side, e.g. in writing "Mr & Mrs Daniels" on an envelope, or in references of the type "(James & Smith, 1988)".

But beyond that, the ampersand isn't actually used that much these days, in either formal or informal contexts. It's rare in modern media to need to save the space or typing time of a couple of measly letters, and an abbreviation such as "&c." for "etc" appears to have gone out of fashion, possibly alongside the other fashion of reducing the amount of "punctuation clutter" that people use in writing generally.

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Strictly speaking, the ampersand is acting as part of the company name, so it is not really being used to replace "and". So this is not a "back door" to introduce ampersands to formal writing.

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